Rev Norman MacLeod of Stoer, Scotland

‘THEY FOLLOWED HIM TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH’The Story of the Rev Norman MacLeod & the Normanites.At the side of a sand dune about seven miles north of Lochinver, overlooking his beloved Clachtoll Bay, stands the monument to Norman MacLeod. This large white marble rock, erected to his memory, was unveiled on 2nd August 1994.TO THE MEMORY OF
He led his people over 14,000 miles of ocean
To Nova Scotia, Australia and New Zealand


Born on 29th September 1780, to David and Margaret McLeod of Stoer, Norman spent his childhood days amongst the hills, lochans and peat bogs of remote Assynt. At the age of twenty seven, he went to Aberdeen University to study for a Master of Arts degree. On graduating in 1812, he was awarded the Gold Medal for Moral Philosophy. To enable him to enter the ministry and be guaranteed a presbytery; he had to go to Edinburgh to complete a theology course. Before going to Edinburgh, he married Mary McLeod, who had long been his sweetheart and who would accompany him on his travels.

On completion of the course, Norman and Mary moved to Ullapool, where he had been appointed as teacher at the SPCK school with a stipend of £25 per annum. Teachers with the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge also doubled as lay preachers, and he soon came into conflict with the established minister Dr Ross. Their disagreements were basic, so much so, that when the McLeod’s wished their son John Luther baptised, they took him to Lochcarron, 40 miles to the south. As Norman even refused to attend services taken by Dr Ross, his living was put at risk. His stipend was stopped and in 1815 he went to Wick where he spent a year at the fishing. Planning to emigrate to Canada, it took him until 1817 to find a suitable passage for the family.

July 1817 saw the family boarding the barque ‘Frances Anne” and setting sail for Pictou on the north coast of Nova Scotia. There was already a thriving Highland community there, mostly emigrants from Loch Broom. As the Highland Clearances were under way, Patrick Sellar doing his worst, another 150 followed Norman to Pictou the following year.

As no church had ever been set up in Pictou, although a building had been started in 1804, he found a community waiting on him to establish a church. Here he preached the Word, pure and in corrupted, as God intended. As his fame spread, his followers were dubbed Normanites. By 1820, Pictou was becoming overcrowded, so Norman and his flock moved about a hundred miles, to St Ann’s, Cape Breton Island. They were the first Scots to arrive, but were soon followed by boatloads of others, from the Hebrides as well as the mainland. Soon he was surrounded by Gaelic speaking Presbyterian crofters and fishers, and their modest womenfolk who with their God-fearing ways kept the Sabbath holy and packed his church.

Plaque on Memorial Monument at St. Ann’s

Back in Pictou, the Presbyterian ways were under threat from Anglican and Roman Catholic chapels, but the Normanites remained true to their beliefs. As he had still not been ordained, he travelled to New York State in 1827 to be ordained at a Presbyterian Church there. Thus, at last, he was a sanctioned minister to his flock. In 1829, he built a school, which to this day is the centre of Gaelic learning in Canada. Whilst by the early 1840’s his meeting house with seating for 1200 was overflowing every Sabbath, his home church had been driven apart and the Free Church of Scotland had broken away.

Norman, seeking a community where he could assert his leadership, appealed to his flock to go with him and many decided to go. Legend says the plan was to build a ship, sail down the Atlantic coast and up the Mississippi to Ohio. The building of the ship began and it was dubbed derisively “The Ark” by the people of Pictou. In September of 1819 the 18 ton schooner sailed with Norman and a group of men – planning to settle and prepare homes for their families who would follow. They decided to sail along the Cape Breton coast to test this ship rather than immediately facing the open sea through the Strait of Canso. They stopped on a sunny afternoon to fish near the mouth of St. Ann’s Harbour and decided to anchor overnight in the harbour.

The next day, in the morning sunshine, they sailed through the circle of mountains to the head of the bay. The waters were teeming with fish. They landed, deliberated and decided to stay.

Men selected locations along the shore and began to build cabins for their families before returning to Pictou for the winter, where they sold “The Ark” to a shareholder, Alex Munro, and began building small boats to carry their families to St. Ann’s Bay. Early in May of 1820 seven small ships departed Pictou for St. Ann’s and, although buffeted and separated by storms, the first of the seven small vessels beached on the south shore of the harbour on May 20, 1820, and by night all seven ships were accounted for and this was to form their total settlement for that year.

Memorial Monument at St. Ann’s (see plaque above)

Norman’s choice of land had been the point of land separating the North and South Guts – the present College property – and his followers settled around him as he assumed his role as chief and leader. Their small clearings that year, after arduous labour, yielded good crops of potatoes and along with the bountiful fishing they prepared for winter. As ice closed the harbour, the isolation of the small settlement set in. The nearest store was on the island at Baddeck, Sydney was fort miles away, and the settlement had no trails to either of them.

The following spring Munro’s “Ark” sailed back and forth to Pictou with supplies and settlers. Many friends followed them to St. Ann’s. By the end of 1821 the settlement had ringed the harbour and within a few years St. Ann’s was a flourishing community.

By 1822 Norman had started a school, although he was not licensed to teach until 1827, and a log church was built. In 1823 he was appointed magistrate and in 1826 he travelled to Ohio and spent a number of months there and returned an ordained minister. So now Rev. Norman had become spiritual leader, magistrate and teacher and every sphere of community life was under his control.

Norman and his wife had ten children including two who died young and are buried nearby. They did not have to endure the hardships of pioneer life as volunteer service from the community was available to do their physical labour, and Norman had a three-story sawn lumber house built for them. Tuition for schooling came to Norman through labour of parents whose children he was teaching. Soon a new school house was built and a large church (60’ x 80’ with 20’ walls and a complete balcony) was completed and reported to hold 1200 people.

Norman continued to rule with an autocratic hand and imposed his will and strict religious discipline upon the community. He showed no mercy for breach of discipline and public ridicule was meted out by him abundantly. He was revered and loved by some, hated by other but was respected by all. The abuses inherent in his authoritarian control of the settlement were accepted by many as natural necessities. They knew the tradition of supreme control by clan chiefs, landlords and clergy.

Rev. Norman MacLeod – Minister, Magistrate and Teacher

By 1848 the settlement, over 25 years old, had matured and the business, religious and educational life were well established. But then disaster struck and ruined their potato and grain crops. Relief from government or outsiders was not forthcoming since Norman had alienated himself from other clergy in the area with his scornful analysis of their efforts and preaching’s. Starvation was upon them – seed to put in the ground was ruined or used to sustain life, and cows and calves, and even oxen, were slaughtered for the same reason.

(My grandfather, John R. Fraser, told me that his grandfather, John Fraser, who had married a Roman Catholic woman, a Tulloch MacDonald at Mabou, was then widowed. Before her death his  wife made him promise on her death bed that he raise their nine children as Catholic. He promised and converted to Catholic. He moved from Mabou and headed for St. Ann’s and lived there for a period of about six months. Grampa claims that they “fought and rowed and eventually drove him out of St. Ann’s.” You can imagine in those days what he would have had to put up with as a former Presbyterian who converted to Roman Catholicism with nine baptised Catholic children. He then moved on to the Back Lands of Meat Cove. – CAPER)

Facing as it does North East, St Ann’s Bay suffered the worst of severe winters, and access to the town was frequently blocked by ice, stopping all trade in or out. When potato blight struck in 1847-48, the hardships were too much for many who felt the need to find greener pastures elsewhere. One of Norman’s sons, sailed back to Scotland, and then on to Australia, where he found work as a journalist. His letters describing the wonderful life he had found there unsettled the folk in St Ann’s. So, at the age of 68, Norman decided to pack up and go down under.

The first priority was to build ships and throughout 1850 and into 1851, the skills of the highland boat builders were put to full use. By October 1851, the ‘Margaret’, a barque of 236 tons was afloat, and the smaller ‘Highland Lass’ was nearing completion. In early November, Norman and Mary with seven of their children, and 150 other Normanites set sail. Having called at Cape Town en route, they arrived in Adelaide in April 1852. ‘Highland Lass’, carrying another 155 parishioners, arrived in October.

Adelaide was in the grip of a gold rush. Gold had been found at Ballarat, near Melbourne, and the accompanying greed and violence made Adelaide a misery for the Normanites. As they had sold the ‘Margaret’, they were trapped. When typhus struck and carried off three of his six sons, Norman believed that the old testament prophesy of plague and pestilence as a punishment for the worship of false gods was coming true, so they had to get out of what was becoming a hell-hole.

In early 1853, he wrote to the Governor of New Zealand, Sir George Grey, asking for a grant of land for his people. They purchased a schooner the ‘Gazelle’, and set off. On 21st September 1833, their group is reported to have landed in North Island. They settled on the far North east coast, between Auckland and the Bay of Islands, in the area around the Waipu River and Whangerai Heads. This land was virgin bush and forest, and being coastal, the skills of the Highlanders could be fully employed. The Normanites had found a permanent home. By the end of 1859, four more shiploads had arrived. It is reckoned that by 1860 there were 883 people there representing 19 Scottish clans.

Norman lived happily in Waipu until his death on 14th March 1866. His flock continued in their Normanite ways, but as the years passed and they intermarried and moved away, their Gaelic roots dwindled as they became New Zealanders.


Rev Norman MacLeod’s Presbyterian Church at Waipu, N.Z.


In St Ann’s his memory is kept alive by a memorial stone, and in Waipu there is a fine timbered Presbyterian church to this day. It is only fitting that now, so long after his death, one of the great Presbyterians should have a memorial where he was born.

The House of Memories in Waipu is a museum to the memory of all the Scots who went along the route taken by Rev Norman McLeod and his Normanites.

(Contributed by Simon Fraser)

(Courtesy of ‘The Gaelic College’ of St. Ann’s and the Internet)


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by adam reid on March 1, 2011 at 18:47

    I Adam Reid of Douglas Reid who of Isabel McLeod whose father was Norman McLeod and trace back to Loch Broom beleive that you may very well be talking about our great great great great grandfather.


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